I Suppose Reality Computing is Next

I’m browsing the headlines today and the question finally comes to mind: Who comes up with IT industry buzzwords? I mean really…cloud computing? Clouds are nothing more than large swaths of moisture suspended in the atmosphere. That isn’t exactly the most appropriate environment for electronics. Besides, what would clouds want to do on a computer anyway? I suppose playing solitaire is better than floating around the sky all day with nothing to do, but I really don’t think I want laptops hovering at ten thousand feet above my head. What if the cloud gets mad and throws it down…at me? Then there’s the whole new economy. I know the “old” economy is having a rough time of it right now, but we should be serious. It’s all the same economy. It just has a fancy new parking garage. Don’t try to argue that it’s new because it uses the internet. It’s still just mail order and that’s been around for ages. Don’t try to argue that it’s new because it’s global. We get too many goods from other countries. Heck, I’ve heard it suggested that if Wal-Mart ever folded, China’s economy would collapse because of the amount of business they do. It’s all the same. Quit trying to be special. Dot-bombs sound more like some kind of IED or spy gadget. It’s bad enough that we get this overload of buzzwords, but do you have to mix them with bad slang as well? They’re just failed businesses. It happens all the time. Why do you people insist on this obnoxious demarcation line between that which is internet and that which is not internet. Haven’t we been trying to converge everything with the internet? It seems like a self defeating purpose. How about trying something different. And just so you don’t think I’m griping to the tech industry in general, I have one generic buzzword peeve for you. Offline. I do not think it means what you think it means. Offline means not online. It means you are working with some sort of software or device that normally functions with an internet connection but for some reason is not doing so right now. It does not mean that you want to talk to me away from the meeting. Offline and in private are not interchangeable. Ever. Stop it. I have a few others that kind of grate on my ears when I hear them but I think the point has been made. Buzzwords are silly and unnecessary. It is just a way for the clueless to try and sound like they have a clue. And unfortunately it is contagious enough that those with a clue end up using them, too.

A-Loan in the Dark

Have you ever noticed that important paperwork is right where you put it for safe keeping…until the moment you need it? Take for instance the situation I am currently in. I have one of those small fireproof boxes in my house for the purpose of keeping my deed, car titles, and custody paperwork. These are documents I don’t want to lose, whether from misplacement or fire. Everything I put in there is right where I left it, too. Well…everything except the title to my Amigo. Which is odd since I haven’t touched that box since I put the title in there.

Why does this matter since I’m not selling my vehicle? I need it for loan collateral. The problem now is that I need the money for the loan in my account by the last day of the month and it takes about 14 days to get a title replaced. The way around this is to go to the local tax commision office where they actually print the things and for a $30 premium you can get one within minutes. Seems easy enough so I choose that course of action. It takes half of my lunch break just to get to the backwoods alternate reality where they located this massive chuck of steel building. But I did manage to find it and fill out my little form with the VIN (and you better know you’re VIN because they will NOT look it up…yay for customer service) and other relevant information.

Then the lady hands me a newly printed form which, by the way, is the exact same form I filled out with ink and handed her save for one little change. Apparently something got screwed up when I paid it off over three years ago. The bank is still listed as the lien holder. I certainly hope I don’t owe them anything. I haven’t made a payment in nearly four years. And I am completely certain I got a title from the State that did not list any lien holders. Yet there it was on screen as plain as day. Of course the lady couldn’t tell me how in the world I got a correct title when the information in the system was wrong. So now I have to get a lien release form from the bank so I can get a copy of the title to hand them so they can put a lien on the title. Still with me? Good because here’s where it gets bumpy.

I tried calling the bank and got stuck on hold for about 45 minutes. Now I only get an hour for lunch and it took 30 minutes to get here and then another 15 to do the paperwork shuffle. Now I’ve been on hold for another 3/4 of an hour and have another 30 minute ride in 98 degree weather to look forward to. Frustrated I contact my mother for reinforcement on trying to get the bank on the phone. She has worked with the lady that’s handling my loan for years so she’s got back lines of communication that I do not have. It also frees me up to make the sweltering ride back to work. Murphy’s Law is having a lot of fun at this point and decides to let my whole family share the joy.

Nobody I know can get anyone at the bank to answer and now I’m back at work with a screwed up laptop, a faulty wireless NIC driver, a problem with a cellular air card, and two weeks of reports that people want done in a matter of minutes. Oh, and let’s not forget the scanner system that lost all of its settings. I make alternate arrangements via SMS for collateral until I can get my title situation figured out. I now have to get everything done at work by 4PM so I have time to finish the bank stuff up today. Somehow I manage. I don’t know how but I manage to get all the broken stuff fixed by 4:04PM. So I run out the back door and head towards my bike.

You guessed it. I have another problem. Now I park my bike out back under the huge shed. It’s about the only place that is concrete and not gravel. The slab is huge and usually mostly empty. For the last week, though, people seem to have been going out of their way to pile pallets and trailers and boxes and cars around the bike so I cannot get out to go home. Today I tried parking right at the edge of the slab instead of the middle to fix that. What did they do? They parked closer and boxed me in more tightly than before. I swear that if I didn’t love my bike so much I would ram it smooth into their $40k plus cages. It’s not like I’m asking for super special treatment and climate controlled parking. I just want something solid under the kickstand and a path out when I get ready to go. It seems this is far too much to ask.

A few more minutes of wriggling and I’m able to squeeze the bike between the rusty Toyota and the Ford SVT pickup. It’s a good thing I’m not spiteful or I would have “accidentally” dragged the highway bar pegs down that lovely white paint job on the SVT…or the black paint of the Pontiac G8. But I didn’t and now I’m off to finally get the money in my account from the loan. Of course the reason I couldn’t get the lady on the phone is that she’s out today. Also, she’s been talking to me on and off for two weeks now about this loan and everything has been approved and is ready to go…except the other ladies cannot find any record of it in the system. So now I have to start all over. This is after the 12 minutes it takes to fill in the 6 blanks on the release of lien form. Eventually I get everything finished. And by that I mean I waited 45 minutes while the lady tapped away on her keyboard so I could sign one piece of paper on a line she drew with a pen.

Why can’t things just be simple? Oh and for those that think this isn’t enough…I just picked up the GMC truck that I’m buying from my dad on a deferred payment. He can’t find the title and after driving over 140 miles back to my house I notice the tag expired two months ago. Now I can’t get him on the phone to tell him I need a bill of sale so I can title, tag, and insure it ASAP. As usual, Murphy’s Imp of Perverse is right on top of things.

Categorized as rants

Dr. Horrible Really Isn’t

If you’ve been under a rock, then you might not have heard of Joss Whedon‘s latest gem, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Comprised of three fairly short episodes and designed for web distribution, this mini-series is full of whimsy and general silliness. Long time geeks will recognize the stars that Whedon has breathing life into this latest creation. Names like Nathan Fillion (Firefly) and Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser and How I Met Your Mother) comprise the hero(?) and his nemesis. Center to their current conflict is Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

In usual Joss Whedon style, the hilarity ensues from the very first scene and it just gets better and better as the story unfolds. Without giving any spoilers, the premise is that Dr. Horrible (Harris) wants to join the Evil League of Evil and must prove himself which is easier said than done because he is always foiled by Captain Hammer (Fillion). Unfortunately, the time of free viewing on the website has passed, but it is available through iTunes for $1.99 and episode or $3.99 for the entire series. He plans a DVD release later. More details about that will be unleashed upon us at ComicCon. I can say this, if you like Whedon’s previous works and you like the silliness of Monty Python and Mel Brooks, then you’ll probably love Dr. Horrible. One thing I can tell you for sure, Dr. Horrible is wonderful.

One Busch Gone, One Bush To Go

Well I heard on NPR that the Anheuser-Busch board accepted the latest offer from InBev. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, InBev “sweetened the offer” from $65 to $70 a share on the latest volley for the buyout. They’ve been pretty stagnant on the stock front for a couple of years now. InBev says it will keep the US breweries open and keep the US main office in St. Louis. Hey, we always knew they were a bunch of sellouts. This just confirms it. Not that the change is necessarily a bad thing…

UPDATE: Looks like the InBev link is busted. You’ll probably have to try the UK site. What a wonderful start to the merger…

Does Social Media Blend?

Dwight Silverman posted an interesting Tweet on the day of the iPhone release. He said:

I wish we could report more breaking stories the way we did the iPhone today, blending blogs, twitter, reporters, links. Soon, very soon…

…which brings up some interesting ideas. We have news aggregation sites like Digg and Slashdot. We have services like FriendFeed that aggregate information from multiple social media services. We have mashups like iGoogle. But has anyone yet put together a way to blend all of these wonderful things into a useful, intuitive interface for the creation and trafficking of breaking news stories?

Now I replied to that Tweet that we in the social media world are just getting through taking our baby steps. We haven’t quite got up to walking but we are getting there. The next phase is to make it truly mainstream. Many news sources already leverage services like Twitter to post links to new articles that appear on their site. But this is merely a scratch of the surface. Offerings like Twitter could easily be used to create “live” news articles.

Think about this: You have a new website with a system that will take an article’s owner (reporter) and allow this owner to let others expand their article with posts from Twitter/Pownce/Whatever in certain sections of the story. The article becomes a truly interactive experience that gives the reporter’s view and expands his or her words with the observations of others within the article itself. Now obviously you wouldn’t let just anyone put anything in there or you end up with John Gabriel’s GIFT(nsfw).

To avoid this you could have a system like OpenID and then the owner grants what level of access people have. Heck, this could be expanded to allow almost roundtable-like discussions. The point of this being that the next evolution of social media is the blending of more traditional news reporting with blogs and other social media services. The iPhone release could have had a parent article that featured the pic taken of Robert Scoble getting his phone with the side story from a blog about how he was allowed to cut in line (say…sent via Twitter DM to the article account) and the Twitter posts from the first guy stopped as the initial group went in to get their new shiny toys. Additional images from Flickr showcasing lines from stores in different areas could be linked in as well. This goes much further than simple comments at the end of an article. I speak of groups of web connected individuals actually building and expanding breaking news stories as they happen.

This is just one idea of what I’m sure is many that will make their way to the web soon. I’m also certain that there are far more qualified and imaginative people putting together new technologies and ideas. Some will fail but inevitably one or two of these new tools will gain some success in the next phase of the media evolution. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m looking forward to the next stage…so hurry up already and build us some tools to use.

UPDATE: It’s almost like Rule 34. I posted about it and find that STLToday.com already somewhat includes this. An example is this article about he InBev buyout of Anheuser-Busch. The first Related Link is a blog and Twitter feed basically of related stories. Found it because my little post on the deal got in there. Now we just need more articles to include this feature and more news sites to do it.

Whoop De Doo, A New iPhone

Media is all atwitter (yep…a pun in the first sentence) about the launch of the 3G iPhone. Well I say whoop-de-doo. Apple finally released the device they should have unleashed upon the masses when it first hit the market a year ago. Seriously, why wouldn’t you make your ground-breaking new piece of hardware take advantage of the latest and greatest technology like 3G?

Think about it. One of the major selling points was online media a-la Youtube. What possessed the creators to settle for EDGE? We all know EDGE sucks. We all know 3G is much faster and makes the entire mobile online experience tolerable. We all accept 3G as the best thing to use next to WiFi and real broadband. But you settled for EDGE. 3G always wins because EDGE is dumb.

You touted how great it was to have online map lookups for places you might be interested in and yet you didn’t include GPS. So I can know where I’m going but not where I’m at? Who comes up with this stuff? If I’m using the map to find a place to eat, I am probably in a place unfamiliar to me so it would help to know where I’m sitting in relation to my destination. It makes it easier to determine my travel route. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just full of crazy talk.

You finally decided to let AT&T subsidize the price so more people can buy it. Why didn’t you do that before? Sure the whole profit sharing thing may have sounded interesting but did you not learn a lesson from Wal-Mart? It’s far better to get a dollar from thousands than ten dollars from hundreds. You make more in the long run that way. If you don’t believe that then you haven’t been to ebay lately.

You say it has wonderful Exchange integration. Like it or not they own the market. Why wouldn’t you support that right out of the gate? There are several clients that can talk to Exchange so it shouldn’t have been a huge deal to get working. Did you have some delusion that by offering this “must-have” device to the masses that corporate attitudes would change overnight? I certainly hope not. I really don’t understand what you were thinking there, Steve.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not an Apple hater. I adore my iMac and I use it far more than my Windows laptop. I really like the iPhone and I want to get one. But I think you goofed. You brought out a device that, while revolutionary, lacked in many key areas. You also flubbed the pricing and had to offer some compensation to stifle the ire of the masses. The intial offer seems more and more like a beta and popular opinion would say that doing such a thing is a Microsoft thing, not an Apple thing.

Then to top it all off you earn the Fail Whale trophy for activation. You had the stock out there. You really should have known what kind of bombardment you were going to have as AT&T doors opened. But it’s okay. You aren’t the only one that loused it up today. AT&T is right there with you. They had the gall to allocate every last store rep to iPhone sales. Every last one. I needed to get a phone for an employee today…a Nokia…before he left for a job out of town. I was told point blank that I couldn’t and I would have to wait until this afternoon or tomorrow. You know, AT&T, you aren’t the only game in town that offers standard ho-hum phones. I can get one somewhere else if my business isn’t worth 10 minutes of one rep’s time.

All in all I say that the Fail Whale award for today goes to Apple with support from AT&T.

Organization Will Set You Free

I don’t know about the rest of you but I have friends that like to borrow things. These things are usually in the form of DVDs or books. With my memory not exactly being what it used to be, I really have a hard time remembering who has what. Heck, I’ve loaned stuff out that stayed gone so long that I forgot I even owned it. This is where Delicious Library 2 comes in if you have a Mac.

Delicious Library 2 is a program that will catalog pretty much anything and everything you own. Yes, I am aware there are lots of programs that will do this. Let me tell you the joys of why DL2 is superior. Probably the best feature in my opinion is the barcode scan ability. All you do is hold the book or DVD or whatever’s barcode up to your iSight camera and it will read it, look the item up on Amazon, and download all information about that item into your database (including current sale value!).

DL2 also integrates into your Mac’s address book which will let you drag an item you loaned to that person’s entry so you can keep up with who has what. It’ll even put an iCal reminder for the due date you set. See? Bad memory is no longer a problem. And speaking of friends, DL2 will use Bonjour to show you the library of other Macs on your network. It’ll even let you find libraries of your friends that are published to the web. Did I mention you can publish it to the web (using either .Mac or iWeb or even FTP)?

There’s a whole host of other things you can do including a simple three click process to sell an item on Amazon but for a full list of everything it can do I would suggest just going to the website. You can download the program and put up to 25 items in it before you need to purchase it. The cost is a very reasonable $40. Actually, next to the $20 I spent on Connect360, I think this is the best investment I’ve made in my iMac.

AT&T Business Care(less)

I was on the phone the other day with AT&T. I manage wireless phones for the company I work for and I needed to upgrade one employee’s phone and remove two numbers from suspension so I could issue phones to a couple of new employees. That should be simple process. It should take less than five minutes per task to complete. The problem is that there is a difference between “should” and “is”.

Let me take a quick moment to explain how business accounts work. You have a Foundation Account Number or FAN. This is the master account. Under this (like subfolders on a computer) you have Billing Account Numbers or BANs. These are where Subscriber Lines (phones) are located. This allows you to separate groups of numbers by department or region or manager. Now that we have that down…back to the story.

Apparently AT&T has decided that we need a new FAN but didn’t bother to tell me or give me access to it on the Premier site. For the past week or so I have noticed that I haven’t been able to pull up information on voice lines (our air cards are on another BAN and require far less maintenance). Any time I tried to get into the information or perform an upgrade I got a notice about technical difficulties with some long unintelligible string of characters in pretty red text. I tried to give it a little time because I knew that Premier isn’t exactly known for being the most reliable system out there. Go Java!

So anyway, I get tired of this and call the Premier support number. I run through the voice menu options that make the most sense and finally get a person on the phone. This person is not in Premier Support. He advises me I should call this number to get to the proper department…which was the number I dialed that sent me to him. AT&T – Your World Delivered (to the wrong place). We argued back and forth about whether I called the correct number or not and eventually I convinced him that I did indeed dial the correct number and that he should try to get someone on the phone from the correct department to help me out. This results in me being put on hold.

About twenty minutes later I’m finally back on with this guy who tells me the proper option sequence to select in the voice menu system to get to the support department. Someone tell me why the number dedicated to Premier Support puts the option to actually get Premier Support down at option three. Apparently when it asks if you are having trouble with your service on the Premier Support line it doesn’t mean Premier. AT&T wins again with great design. Okay, enough digressing…the guy informed me he had the right place and was transferring me now. I thanked him and heard myself transferred…to the call queue. Yep, stupid music met my ears and the recorded voice thanking me for my patience. Apparently he failed in locating a fellow human being. At this point we’re nearly forty-five minutes into the call when all I wanted was three little things done. Oh, those tasks still haven’t been completed.

Here I am in the call queue of what I can only hope is the right place. I’m not really holding my breath because I usually get transferred incorrectly at least twice before I get to a person that can actually help me. I started all of this at roughly three o’clock. I hit the queue just a little before four o’clock. It is now four forty-five and I am still listening to stupid music and annoying recorded voices thanking me for my patience. I hung up and haven’t gotten my problem fixed yet. And don’t bother trying to get help from your account representative. That’s not his job any more. He’s there to put contracts in front of you and to tell you which useless numbers to call for help. This isn’t like the old days when a rep actually tried to get problems resolved. Nope. He’s a paper and responsibility pusher.

I’d like to thank AT&T for this absolutely wonderful lack of service, confusing voice menus, and absolute most retarded customer service restructure in the history of man. If the guy in charge of my account isn’t really there to service my account. Then call him by a different title. I suggest going with something like Corporate Rape Specialist or Blame Pusher.

So What Exactly Is Social Media?

In the beginning, communicating with people on the net was done via newsgroups, IRC, email, or IM. There are limitations to all of these with respect to getting the message to a mass audience. In reality, most messages were sent to a specific person or very small and select group of people. Social Media, though I hate buzzwords, is a nice catch-all term for a new series of web services that allow for a much greater penetration of a message. It takes a different approach. It puts the power in the hands of the reader/subscriber and not the author.

The advent of blogs are where I think the true birth of Social Media took place. Services like WordPress (which SBR uses), TypePad, Blogger, and LiveJournal gave the non-tech savvy internet user the ability to easily share thoughts and ideas with the world. Sure there were places that had WYSIWYG web page generators, but they were almost always clunky and never really made it easy to share frequent updates with the mass audience of the intarwebs. Blog systems changed all of that by giving people a simple text box to type in and a button to push to add the posts as easily as one would write and send an email. The blog format has been adopted by a great many large sites like Ars Technica and LifeHacker.

RSS feeds added to the blog phenomenon by making it easier to keep track of when new posts were added. This began the opt-in series of services that form the basis of what Social Media is today. If you look at offerings like Twitter, Pownce, and FriendFeed, you truly begin to see the power of the opt-in approach. The limitations of IM such as having to add people you want to talk to and those people having to be online at the time you send your message were overcome. The pains you had to go through to send that message to a lot of people at once were also taken care of. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to know these people. They will find you and opt-in to your data feed from that service and the service worries about sending your message to all of them whether it is 10 or 10,000 people.

A myriad of clients for these services, both web based and desktop based add to the overall convenience of both posting your own messages and monitoring other’s feeds. This is the true magic of what we call Social Media. Take Twitter as an example. I am following well over 150 people. Granted I miss a few updates from people here and there from the sheer volume of messages, but I get to keep up with all of these people with similar interests that I have never met. I get to see thoughts and ideas and websites and articles I would probably have never seen if it wasn’t for my desktop client (Twhirl on Windows and Twitterrific on my iMac).

A lot of times, it is these messages that spur ideas for my blog posts. I’m sure that I’m not the only one deriving inspiration from random messages in these feeds. Of course, there is a lot of fluff out there but the nice thing is, you can skip it by just not subscribing to those feeds. Besides, what I consider fluff you might consider to be interesting reading. See how putting the power in the reader’s hands is so nice? It isn’t intrusive like all of those annoying forwarded emails that people perpetually send to one another. I get so tired of deleting emails with subjects that start with “FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW” (okay, maybe not quite that many, but you get the picture).

Basically, Social Media is a source of information that is offered through an opt-in service so that user’s interested can choose to be updated when more information is available. It may include getting an SMS with the latest message or getting a daily digest email to the account of your choice. The options are many and varied just like the services offered. The upshot is that these services, when properly implemented, make it much easier to get the information you want in a timely manner without all the hassle of various versions of spam.

Even big time corporations are seeing the advantages of leveraging Social Media networks. Comcast in particular has made some really good strides at improving Customer Service through a dedicated Social Media team. They scour the common services and search through blogs no matter how small to find places where people are complaining about problems they cannot get resolved with Comcast. The team then makes contact with these people and works with them to try and fix the issue. I know this works because they did it for me. I blogged extensively about it here at SBR and I’m happy to say they completely satisfied me with the solution.

So what is my short definition of Social Media? It’s all of those services on the web that let you post regular updates about things and sends those updates to everyone that opts-in to follow your feed/stream/whatever. It is all of those services that let us communicate with people we’ve never met but find what we have to say interesting. It is the next step of the world’s communication medium, but not the last.

iPhone Pricing – Some Restrictions Apply

Well the net is all afire with the just released pricing plans from AT&T for the iPhone 3G. Jobs announced that the phones would be retailing for $199 for the 8GB model and $299 for the 16GB model. What he failed to mention was the specific circumstances at which these prices are valid. Yes, I know it is shocking to think that AT&T might make things complicated and that they might have their own pocketbooks in mind rather than the customer…but it’s true.

See, the prices are for a specific group. To get these prices you must have purchased an iPhone before July 11, be activating a new line of service with AT&T, or be eligible for an upgrade. If you don’t fall into these categories, then be prepared to pay the same old $399 and $499 prices for these phones…with a two-year contract. Isn’t it great to be the customer? They will also be offering the phones without a contract but that’ll run you $599 or $699 depending on storage size. Now, I like Apple. I also happen to like my AT&T service. I want to like the iPhone. But man are they making it hard for me to consider giving up my Tilt.

Jobs failed to put the tell-tale * in the slides with the pricing during his keynote. I can understand how this information could dampen the response to his company’s new toy. But I can’t stomach the special “customer service” that’s going on with this pricing. Well, it really isn’t the pricing itself that I find annoying. Most AT&T phones have two prices, the upgrade and the non-upgrade price. It’s the deceitful way that Jobs presented it to the world. I think my Tilt has plenty of use left in it even though it is a much bulkier device.

Thanks so much for saving me a few hundred dollars AT&T. I couldn’t have done it without your special touch to what was a wonderful offer from Apple. Oh, and don’t forget kiddies, AT&T data plans no longer include an SMS package. You’ll have to add that piece of overpriced fluff separately.